When you think of the term "work uniform," you probably get this sad urge to bite your fist; but sometimes there can be pros to work uniforms. Back when I was a philosophy major in college, I had this one class amidst my morning morality lectures and logic problems that took small mental breakdowns to solve — a class that had the rare quality of completely and totally capturing my attention. The teacher was this small sprite of a woman with short, choppy blonde hair and energetic, karate-chop hand movements. And the class? The philosophy of love and sex. It was all about how sexuality and love turn into confining traps for women, caging us in with our emotions and vanity. And there was one thing she mentioned — in passing and complete nonchalance — that has stuck with me for years and years.
It was about her morning routine. Before you laugh, hear me out! She mentioned how her normal morning routine went day after day, waking up an hour before her husband like clockwork, rolling out of bed, and heading to the bathroom to fight her pixie-like hair into submission and hide the inevitable bags and tired skin that followed a too-long night arguing philosophy in the form of thesis papers. She'd fuss and polish and bronze until her husband would come in an hour later, moving her out of the bathroom so he could get his turn. After a quick five-minute shower, he'd step out, throw on some jeans, and head to the kitchen to work on his thesis (he was another philosopher). So during all that time while she was primping, he was catching up on sleep and continuing to work, continuing to develop in his career, and continuing to advance himself further in life. He was doing all that while she was picking out shoes and cleaning up rogue mascara smudges.
"So who is the winner in this scenario?" she'd ask us. And we'd all sit there quietly, uncomfortable with the knowledge that we weren't sure if we could give up that morning one-on-one time with our mirrors. And in that, she pointed out sort of sadly, lies the problem.
Her words came to me again when I was reading a Harper's Bazaar article written by Matilda Kahl, an art director at one of the leading creative advertising agencies in New York. One morning she came rushing into the office completely frazzled and late for an important meeting with her new boss. Running down the hallway to the meeting room with her sweater inside out, she was greeted to a scene of her male creative-counterparts bonding and joking with the new boss as they were heading inside. She was at a disadvantage, unprepared and completely stressed out because she took way too long in the morning deciding what to wear.
After that debacle, she decided that she wasn't going to limit herself anymore by stressing over what clothes to put on. So her solution? To buy a work uniform consisting of 15 different types of white blouses and a couple of tailored black pants. That way she'd have one less thing to preoccupy her mind with when all her attention should be on advancing and bettering her work. That was it, problem solved, no more questions, put your hands down.
Intrigued by the idea, I wanted to see if that really did make a difference. I wanted to see if both my philosophy professor and Kahl were on to something, and if I was jipping myself with the time it took to agonize over whether that blazer went with that dress. To test the theory out, I created my own version of a uniform and wore it for five work days last week. The results were pleasantly surprising:
Day 1: Monday
While Kahl wore black pants and white shirts, I knew I wouldn't be entirely happy sitting in something so neutral for nine hours every day. I like tumbling colors and flippy hems and would feel antsy if I had a lack of them. So I created my own version and learned how to keep my style at the office: I veered away from repeating the same look and instead chose to repeat the same formula. One that consisted of bottoms + black crop top sweater + sandals. I have an unholy amount of dresses, so popping a simple sweater over them would give me endless possibilities. Today's look consisted of a pleated, citrusy dress, and by matching it automatically with the sweater, it took me all of 15 minutes to get ready, from brushing my hair to putting on my shoes.
Which meant I could lounge on the couch with my coffee and catch up with my three month old Vogue before I had to head out to catch my train. Granted, while I didn't use the time to further my career, it sure was nice to have a breath before heading out.
Day 2: Tuesday
Today I took a flippy tent dress and paired it with my crop sweater, instantly making the bohemian maxi a little more subdued and office appropriate. I picked it out without a thought while brushing my teeth this morning and went on my way the second I threw it on. Noticing I still had 30 minutes before I had to run out the door, I took the opportunity to answer some long-neglected emails (seriously, my inbox is terrifying) and brainstorm new pitches I'd be excited to write about.
My day started off satisfyingly productive, and it motivated me to keep crossing intimidating things off my day's to-do list. I was also pleased to notice that I felt just as stylish in this look as I would in something else that would take me five times as long to put together. I think it was safe to say I completely crushed Tuesday.
Day 3: Wednesday
Kahl mentioned in her article that when she chose to stick to a uniform, people started to become curious of her motives. Questions like, "Did you lose a bet?" and, "Are you part of some sort of sect?" were thrown her way, to which she calmly reminded them that men did this same exact thing every day, on the regular. It was called a suit.
Some would accept that answer, others would worry that she'd become bored of sticking to the same staples day after day. Then the wildly popular Mashable article came out about two years after she started her new closet lifestyle, entitled Why Successful Men Wear the Same Thing Every Day. Spoiler: It's because they're too busy focusing their energy and brain power on more important decisions. After that, the questions came to a stop, which was a bit sad in itself, seeing how the validity of men made the idea not so insane anymore.
The reason I'm mentioning this is because I was asked the same question by day three. "Going with black again, Mar?" And this is with me wearing radically different bottoms every day. I was surprised. I wasn't offended, but I was surprised. It just seemed like too non-important of a thing to notice.
Day 4: Thursday
When I first started this trial, I was convinced that — while I would still be able to come up with interesting outfits — my creativity would take a nosedive and I wouldn't feel as invested in my wardrobe. I'm happy to report that didn't turn out to be at all true. While some of the looks didn't give me the same satisfaction as a real on-point outfit would, I still felt happy choosing it and killing in it for my nine work hours.
And while playing with style is a big part of what makes me me, I have to admit that once the middle of the work week hits I'm exhausted and wish onesies were socially acceptable office wear.
Your brain gets tired, you start dreaming of the comforting embrace of Friday night margaritas, and once Thursday shows her face, you're just not interested in finding a new way to pair that floral skirt. At times like that, this uniform formula is an absolute godsend. Zero stress, zero brain power, and you still feel wonderful the whole day through.
Day 5: Friday
Breaking the skirt rut, I paired the crop over a wide leg jumpsuit, making it super easy from going to the office to happy hour later that evening. I looked put-together at the office, I felt like a babe at the bar, and it took me about the same time to choose this outfit as it does my brother to pick up a crumpled tee off of the floor. Success!
After trying this out, I would have to side with Kahl. I got a lot more work done, felt a lot less fussy and a lot more focused, and looked equally as good with the uniform than without. While I'll still go play in my closet and come up with crazier outfits (because that's just plain fun), I'm definitely keeping this uniform in my back pocket and will be using it more times than not.
Because it's been liberating owning clothes and not being owned by them.
Images: Marlen Komar; Giphy